By Andrew Isidoro published May 3, 2013

Increase Distribution for Your Branded Content with Microformats

microformatsOne of the great things about working in the continually evolving digital industry is the opportunity to work with the new techniques and technologies that emerge to more effectively promote brands online. This is also, however, where the world of branded content marketing can get a bit more complex and “techy” — for example, its adoption of microformats.

Microformats are small inserts of code that make it possible to create meta data, which can be understood by machines to help pre-populate data on media sources like Facebook and Google. This allows marketers to optimize their branded content and offer richer website content experiences to those who are exposed to them on social networks.

In his iconic presentation, “The Awesome Power of Microformats,” Kevin Lawver said that with microformats, “You can create more consistent content. You can share your microformat with content providers, ensuring that you’ll get content in the right format [and] you don’t need to DO anything to that content before you present it to users.”

This gives publishers the potential to maintain control over their content’s visibility and message long after they have hit the publish button by establishing a standard for the way social media networks will display that content. Search engines have also gotten in on the act, using their own microformats to display rich snippets in search engine results pages (SERPs) and incorporate semantic search elements, such as Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Google Authorship and rel=”author”

What it does: As you may have heard a million times, search engines have begun to display authorship within SERPs, helping marketers to improve their click-through rates (CTRs) and, potentially, get better rankings from Google.

Using the link relation attribute tag, rel=”author” within a link tells search engines that the page is authored by a particular person, thus allowing their Google Authorship status to display in SERPs. In addition, should the fabled AuthorRank verification someday come to pass, this signature should also enable enhanced search rankings for the author.

How to use it: Implementation of Google Authorship ranges from the breathtakingly simple to the needlessly difficult. But the best process I’ve found is to use a signature (similar to the one that I am using in my bio for this post) signalling the Google+ page of the author, like so:

Isidoro rel=authorship

If you don’t know your Google+ page identity (i.e., the long string of numbers in the URL above), just sign into your Google account, and click on View Profile in the drop-down menu next to your profile picture in the upper right-hand corner — your ID number will appear in the URL of the profile page that opens.

(For those who are interested in learning more advanced methods, I’d highly recommend checking out Steve Morgan’s slides and screencast.)

rel=”publisher”

What it does: The tag rel=”publisher” is a slightly different beast than its rel=”author” cousin. Though this code also functions within Google’s search environment, it uses a completely different format for meta-content delivery.

rel=”publisher” creates a rich code snippet that displays marketing content and information drawn from a content creator’s Google+ network. Businesses can benefit from this as it allows them to own more of the search space surrounding their brands.

rel=publisher example

A rich snippet, like the example above, shows searchers your social activity and allows them to click through to follow you as part of their search experience.

How to use it: Implementation of rel=”publisher” is a pretty straightforward affair. It is a simple meta tag that sits within the <head> section of your website’s HTML code. Simply add <link href=”Google+ URL” rel=”publisher”> to the <head> code of your home page. Again, in place of “Google+ URL” above, you would include your own Google profile page URL.

Below is an example of how we have implemented the tag at Box UK:

meta tag at Box UK

Though there is still some debate around whether this tag should be a site-wide addition, the home page should be sufficient for our purposes of branding SERPs.

Twitter cards

What they do: Twitter introduced its Twitter card format last year, allowing brands and publishers to enhance the expanded tweets Twitter creates for their content (similar to the way Open Graph tags provide content creators with the ability to determine what their posts and pages will look like when shared on Facebook).

twitter card example

A recent study by Omoii found that Twitter cards users experienced increases in both click-through rates and engagement (in the form of retweets) with their content: Click-through rates from tweet to post averaged 3 percent with Twitter cards (compared to 1.6 percent without), and engagement rate increased from 27 percent of tweets to 59 percent.

By providing richer data within the content you distribute across your social networks, you can better “sell” that content to the end user in a more scalable manner than ever before.

How to use it: To sign up, follow the three steps noted on Twitter’s developer site:

  1. Review the documentation for the type of card you want to implement.
  2. Add the pertinent meta tags to your page.
  3. Put your URLs into the validator tool to check for errors and request to be approved.

It may take a few weeks to be verified by Twitter, but it is getting faster all the time.

Facebook Open Graph

What it does: When a Facebook user “likes” or shares the URL for a piece of content on Facebook, its Open Graph protocol takes that data and uses it to create the title, description, image, and other attributes that comprise the structured information displayed about that page. This is pulled from the page from information set within the <head> code that defines what each data point should be.

open graph-facebook

Facebook’s Open Graph is probably the most useful mark-up for social sharing, not only because a billion pieces of content are shared every day via Facebook’s Open Graph, but also because Twitter and Google+ both default to Open Graph data when their own specific tags aren’t being used.

How to use it: For content marketers who use WordPress, the brilliant Yoast WordPress SEO plug-in allows you to implement both Facebook Open Graph and Twitter Cards in a very user-friendly manner. But for those of you whose content publishing efforts rely on hard coding, the process for implementing Open Graph is a bit more complex and may be best left to your webmaster or IT department (though the tech-savvy among you can check out Alex Moss’ post, and take a look at the documentation from Facebook for additional guidance).

Once you are up and running, you can check that you have implemented the mark-up correctly by using a program like the OG debugger to pull up any issues with the code.

How are you managing your brand’s message online? Have you taken microformats on board? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

For more tips on implementing the latest optimization tips in your content marketing efforts, read CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Andrew Isidoro

Andrew Isidoro is the SEO Manager at GoCompare.com, one of the UK’s top price comparison websites. You can find him on his blog talking about digital marketing and the state of semantic search, on Google+ or on Twitter: @andrew_isidoro.

Other posts by Andrew Isidoro

  • Laura Lear

    Thanks! Really great advice. I shared with my web team as we’re currently planning a content-driven demand generation strategy. It’s all new to this company I just joined, and am excited to see the results. It is this type of advice that will help my team succeed.

  • http://www.seobodybuilder.com/ Russell Jensen

    Andrew, thanks for the reference to SEObodybuilder.com. I hope that study was valuable for you in writing this article. I have had many people come back on me on that article and say that rich snippets actually harmed their click-through rates. So I have to warn people that not every industry is the same and one companies readers may react well to images in the SERPS while others may not.

    • http://www.andrewisidoro.co.uk/ Andrew Isidoro

      I think it’s the same in anything you do with search. You need to test it. Not everything you read online will work for you even if it’s been very successful for others. I see no reason why it would harm CTRs though?

      • http://www.seobodybuilder.com/ Russell Jensen

        I don’t see any reason either. But I have many people who like to play the devils advocate and say that they think rich snippets are hurting CTR. These are the same people that are late adapters and won’t try something until they see their competition having success with it!